Sil­ver queen

Asher-smith wins GB’S first fe­male sprint medal at global cham­pi­onships for 36 years

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Front Page - Oliver Brown CHIEF SPORTS FEA­TURE WRITER in Doha

Sel­dom has a Bri­tish ath­lete cast aside the bur­den of his­tory with such a ma­jes­tic flour­ish.

It had been 36 years since a fe­male sprinter from this coun­try won a medal at global cham­pi­onships, but for Dina Asher-smith the wait was a mere quirk of fate. Abid­ing only by her own re­mark­able stan­dards and ex­pec­ta­tions, she made light of the pres­sure here in Doha last night, pro­duc­ing an out­stand­ing run in the 100me­tres fi­nal to take sil­ver be­hind Ja­maica’s Shelly-ann Fraser-pryce.

That she did so in a na­tional record of 10.83sec, two hun­dredths in­side her per­sonal best, un­der­lined her rep­u­ta­tion for ris­ing to the most daunt­ing chal­lenges. Asher-smith had kept her coun­sel since ar­riv­ing in Qatar, care­ful not to lis­ten to or en­gage with the hype, and her ap­proach worked won­ders, yield­ing the ma­jor medal that her ex­trav­a­gant tal­ent de­served.

The mag­ni­tude of the feat can hardly be un­der­es­ti­mated. Not since Kathy Small­wood-cook took bronze at the in­au­gu­ral worlds, in Helsinki in 1983, has a Bri­tish fe­male sprinter taken a podium place on so au­gust a stage. The triple Euro­pean gold that pro­pelled her to wider promi­nence in Ber­lin last sum­mer – a dis­play that Bri­tish Ath­let­ics’ Neil Black de­scribed as the “per­for­mance of a life­time” – turned out to be a mere pre­lude.

“I’m def­i­nitely a cham­pi­onship girl,” Asher-smith said, stir­ring an­tic­i­pa­tion that she could turn sil­ver into gold in Wed­nes­day night’s 200m fi­nal, in the ab­sence of Ba­hamian favourite Shau­nae Milleruibo. “I try not to over­think things. I just love the oc­ca­sion. I love the in­ten­sity and the pres­sure.”

Asher-smith’s medal was Britain’s 100th at world cham­pi­onships, and few have felt more aus­pi­cious. She has con­sis­tently built on those break­out runs in Ger­many, even nar­rowly beat­ing Fraser-pryce at this year’s Di­a­mond League meet­ing in Brus­sels. While her ri­val re­asserted her supremacy here, record­ing a time of 10.71, the 12th fastest on record, the world re­mains hers to con­quer, not least at the Tokyo Olympics in 10 months’ time.

She has fol­lowed an as­cetic regime in Doha, deny­ing her­self her usual in­dul­gences of bread rolls, wine and sweets in the knowl­edge she could leave noth­ing to chance. The day of the race, she had avoided the spot­light by binge-watch­ing episodes of The Great Bri­tish Bake Off. It all helped to pro­duce the quick­est run of her life, even if she ad­mit­ted to a pang of re­gret that she had fallen short of gold.

“I’m a per­fec­tion­ist, and I felt there were lit­tle things I could im­prove,” she said. “Gold sounded bet­ter. But if some­body’s go­ing to run 10.71 …”

For the mo­ment, Fraser-pryce, re­s­plen­dent here in rain­bow-dyed hair, looks unas­sail­able. This was her fourth world ti­tle in the 100, a mark not even com­pa­triot Usain Bolt could man­age. She has now dipped un­der 10.80 14 times, more than any other fe­male sprinter past or present. Hav­ing al­ready run the fastest ever heat at ma­jor cham­pi­onships, she only in­creased her mo­men­tum through the rounds, cul­mi­nat­ing in this stun­ningly dom­i­nant em­phatic coup de grace.

“I can’t be­lieve it, espe­cially com­ing back from hav­ing a baby,” said Fraser-pryce, who gave birth the day af­ter miss­ing the 100m fi­nal at Lon­don 2017.

The de­liv­ery was by cae­sarean sec­tion, in­creas­ing the dif­fi­culty of her re­turn to elite com­pe­ti­tion. “Phys­i­cally, it has been a long jour­ney since,” she said. “I was un­able to lift weights on my back, I could only lift hand weights. You worry if you’ll even be able to come back. But it just made me work harder.”

Aptly, she held her son, Zyon, aloft through­out her lap of honour. “It’s hard for women to take a break from sprint­ing,” she ar­gued, hav­ing just shat­tered preconcept­ions about the lim­its of moth­er­hood. “Peo­ple be­lieve that you should wait un­til your ca­reer is fin­ished.”

At 32, Fraser-pryce is surely the finest women’s sprinter ever seen, but Asher-smith, nine years her ju­nior, is emerg­ing fast as her heir pre­sump­tive. “Dina in­spires peo­ple to think that you don’t just have to be from the US or Ja­maica to suc­ceed in the 100m,” the cham­pion said. “You can come from some­where else.”

Fraser-pryce’s eye-wa­ter­ing time in­di­cated that there is still a gap to bridge, but on this ev­i­dence it is a task scarcely be­yond Asher-smith, or her coach, John Blackie, who has scrupu­lously nur­tured her abil­i­ties. It was a pity that there could not be more peo­ple in­side the Khal­ifa In­ter­na­tional Sta­dium to toast her achieve­ment, but one sensed she could not care less. The breadth of her smile, not to men­tion her tears, told you that she ap­pre­ci­ated her feat, even with­out the au­di­ence.

Still giddy with de­light, she said: “I’ve worked so hard for this, and I hope that I’ll go on to do big­ger things. A PB, a na­tional record – that is more than you can ask for in a fi­nal. Shelly-ann did a fan­tas­tic per­for­mance and that’s why she’s an ab­so­lute leg­end. I’ve never done 100m at a world cham­pi­onships be­fore. It was a new ex­pe­ri­ence for me, so I’m su­per-happy. It’s a team ef­fort get­ting me on this track and mak­ing sure I can men­tally go into an event that I’ve never done be­fore and come out with a sil­ver medal.”

Al­ready, the dream of gold in the 200m, her favourite event, looms large in her imag­i­na­tion. “We’ve all got to dare to dream,” she grinned. And with that she dis­ap­peared back into the Doha night, her first am­bi­tion ful­filled and her ap­petite whet­ted. She ar­rived in this city a star. She could yet leave it a sen­sa­tion.

Dina Asher-smith cel­e­brates her sil­ver medal last night

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